Moving more youth to dance

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Chinese American ballerina Yen Han, a principal soloist of the Zurich Ballet, performs at the recent Shanghai International Arts Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese American ballerina Yen Han explores her links with China, Cheng Yuezhu reports. 

Chinese American ballerina Yen Han is tracing her connection with China with a visit to Shanghai. She had received some ballet training in the country as a student and now wants to provide opportunities to young Chinese dancers.

Han was born to Chinese parents in Vietnam. The family moved to the United States in her childhood, when she started her professional ballet training. In 1989, she came to China for a two-year training course at the Beijing Dance Academy, which she says also helped to build her career as a dancer.

"For me to have this experience to work with these teachers, they really brought me to a different level of dance, of a lot of precision ... This gave me a very strong foundation to further my ballet career later on in Europe," Han says.

Han has been a principal soloist of the Zurich Ballet for 25 years.

She has returned to China after 30 years, bringing her own Yen Han Ballet Company to the China Shanghai International Arts Festival.

Han's company and the Shanghai Ballet staged Creations, a piece that explores the dancing body and its expression of thoughts and emotions at the Shanghai festival recently. The dance comprises two chapters, entitled Thoughts of a Silent Night and Echo of Shadow, choreographed respectively by Filipe Portugal and Ken Ossola, both of whom have worked closely with Han. The production is supported by Pro Helvetia Shanghai Swiss Arts Council.

Chinese American ballerina Yen Han, a principal soloist of the Zurich Ballet, performs at the recent Shanghai International Arts Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Portugal says that Thoughts of a Silent Night is inspired by the eponymous poem of the great Chinese poet Li Bai.

"What attracted me about this poem was firstly the title, which by itself says already a lot, and then the simplicity of how such a short poem can let us travel so far."

In Echo of Shadow, Ossola adopts a more instinctive approach to dance.

"I do not prepare movements prior to the studio rehearsal and like to be in the moment, open-minded-a way for me to get to know each one personally. Once the connection is made, we go on creating a dance that is challenging and fits each one of them."

Han has been devoted to dance education as the artistic director of the Yen Han Dance Center, founded by her husband, Matthias Zinser, in 2012.

In the Shanghai production, Han chose to work with young dancers from the Shanghai Ballet so that the production process could also serve as an educational and choreographic experience for local dancers.

"It's also a process of molding the dancers to the style that the choreographers are looking for and the movement quality that the choreographers ask for," Han says.

"I think this is a very important part of the dancers' career-to be exposed to different choreographers, because it will enrich them as artists and enable them to express themselves through dance in different forms."

Apart from the performance, Han held public workshops to show behind-the-scene production activities that make the final presentation possible. At such workshops on Oct 26 and on Nov 2 and 3, Han, choreographers and dancers presented excerpts of the ballet staged at the festival. They talked about its content and how the piece was composed and rehearsed.

Han says audiences usually just see the "finished product", but she feels it's important for them to know the creation process and how it all comes together. This is an approach she plans to continue in her future work in China.

"I would really like to have more transparency, to have the audience visit our workshops, see how a creation is made and ask questions, and to bring public interest to the dance world."

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